05/14/2012 02:33 EDT | Updated 07/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Obama takes aim at Romney's Bain Capital years in cutting new attack

WASHINGTON - His private equity firm was a vampire, a blood-sucker, and he's a job-destroyer.

So says U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election team in a new ad taking direct aim at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney's tenure at the helm of Bain Capital, the latest shot fired in an increasingly heated battle for the hearts and minds of voters ahead of November's presidential election.

The two-minute spot, airing in five crucial swing states, delves into the story of a steel mill in Kansas City, Mo., purchased in 1993 by Bain Capital, the Boston-based firm headed by Romney from 1984 to 1999, when he left the company to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.

By 2001, as the U.S. steel industry was deluged with cheap imports, GST Steel had gone bankrupt, throwing more than 750 employees out of work.

The ad features some of those workers.

"It was like a vampire," Jack Cobb said. "They came in and sucked the life out of us."

Added Joe Soptic, a steelworker for 30 years: "They made as much money off of it as they could. And they closed it down. It was like watching an old friend bleed to death."

In an election most agree will be settled on economic issues, the Obama campaign is going whole hog on Romney's Bain years, tying them to his alleged job creation gravitas.

In a multi-platform onslaught, Team Obama released not just the two-minute ad but another six-minute video featuring longer interviews with GST Steel workers and two other companies that faced bankruptcy after Bain acquired them — Dade International, a medical diagnostics equipment firm, and Stage Stores, a chain of small-town department stores.

It's also set up a website, RomneyEconomics.com, portraying Romney as a job-killing corporate predator.

"Load a company up with debt, get millions of dollars of profit, leave it bankrupt: that's Romney economics," the Obama campaign tweeted on Monday, providing a link to the website.

Romney's campaign officials, already well-versed in dealing with the Bain accusations after Newt Gingrich hammered away on them during his Republican primary brawls with their candidate, were quick to fire back.

"We welcome the Obama campaign's attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement emailed to the media.

"Mitt Romney helped create more jobs in his private sector experience and more jobs as governor of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation."

The Romney campaign has also pointed out that Romney left Bain in '99, and bears no responsibility for layoffs that occurred following his departure.

But during their dust-ups with Gingrich two months ago, the Romney team did take credit for jobs created after the former Massachusetts governor left the firm, citing current employment numbers at three other Bain firms: Staples, Sports Authority and Domino's Pizza.

A former White House auto-bailout adviser was critical of the new ad, which appears a week after the president's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said Obama planned to run a largely positive campaign focusing on his record.

"I do think to pick out an example of somebody who lost their job ... unfortunately, this is part of capitalism, this is part of life," said Steven Rattner on MSNBC.

"And I don't think there's anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about."

Axelrod, for his part, defended the Bain attack in an interview with The Associated Press.

Romney wants to "create the illusion that somehow his experience equips him to lead the economy, but there's nothing about the record that would support that," he said Monday.

"His central premise is that he's an economic wizard who can really get this economy moving and if that's the only claim he is making for this office, that's a premise worth examining."

An Obama campaign official says the president's re-election team intends to focus on Romney's Bain years "during the next few weeks."

The president has struggled to connect with white, male working-class voters, precisely the type who have been hit hardest by Bain-type corporate raiding — and are featured almost exclusively in the new ad.